Sightseeing in Vienna, Austria

I’m kinda terrible at finishing my travel posts, especially for long trips because I get started and never finish (i.e., Machu Picchu & Tanzania/Kenya). So I’m making an effort to finish what I started. The last time I talked about my Eastern European trip from last August, I described where I ran in Vienna. Now I’m here to talk about what I saw.

Vienna is an amazing cultural city. There’s so much to see and do. I don’t even feel like I even covered the tip of all the highlights of Vienna. It’s definitely a place that I want to go back and devote more time to. Also I found my time in Vienna more relaxing because I speak and understand enough German to get by. After several days of relying on people to understand English, it was nice to be more independent.

 

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Top-down, left-to-right: St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Spanish Riding School, Schoenbrunn Palace, apple strudel with whipped cream, & table setting from Hofburg

Schoenbrunn Palace

 

Schoenbrunn Palace is the summer imperial palace and it is right up there with one of the most impressive palaces that I’ve seen in my life. It is the number one attraction in Vienna and as much there are huge crowds. Always. If you go in the morning, the line for tickets isn’t bad, but don’t expect to have a quiet experience in the palace. Like all popular attractions, the hoards of people from tour buses ensure an experience akin to being packed in a sardine can. It’s still worth it. We opted for the longer Grand Tour, which consists of 40 rooms and takes about an hour to get through. I really liked the audio tour and felt that unlike other audio tours when I listened and didn’t remember much, I really did learn something about Franz Joseph, his mother Marie Theresa, and his tragic wife, Sisi. The gardens are large and on a beautiful day, pleasant to walk through. I easily could have spent more time there, but traveling with my father limits us on what we can do. As much as I dislike crowds, I would gladly put up with them all again to go through and absorb more of the fascinating history.

Hofburg (aka Imperial Palace)

Another amazing and fascinating place of history and culture. I adored the china and silver collections (I have an unabashed love of china patterns). I also love the tour of the imperial apartments because I love seeing fancy antique furniture. The Sisi Museum is also here and I highly recommend it because you learn so much about Franz Joseph’s wife, Elisabeth (aka Sisi). Her life is rather tragic, especially in the light of modern-day values and what we know about mental illness and health. I recommend going to Hofburg and then Schoenbrunn because Hofburg goes into more detail about the personalities and personal stories of the historical figures, which help to inform you about the roles they played in history when in Schoenbrunn.

Belvedere Palace

Go here because you’re really into Gustav Klimt’s work. Aside from eating goulash, the other MUST DO on my mother’s list was to see Klimt’s The Kiss. This painting is so popular that they have a separate room with a reproduction where you can have your selfie. We didn’t realize this, so my mother had her picture taken with the actual painting. Oops. Maria Theresa was a huge patron of the arts, so the Belvedere Palace has a fine collection of paintings.

Spanish Riding School

Oh, the incredible, wonderful white Lippanzaner stallions! I grew up riding horses, so obviously I idolized the unbelievably talented riders and horses from the Spanish Riding School. I’ve seen them when they’ve traveled to the US to do a tour, but there’s nothing like seeing them in their environment – the famed Spanish Riding School of Vienna. We lucked out because the horses and riders go on a well-deserved month-long break over the summer and we happened to arrive in Vienna as they started up their shows again for the year. Decent tickets (seating without too much obstructed views) are ridiculously expensive but well worth it. Unfortunately I had difficulties with buying tickets online and by the time I got it resolved, the seats in Category 8 I wanted had sold out. I bought seats in Category 9, which worked out fine. Tickets for the performances sell out early, so don’t rely on getting seats on the day of. I bought the tickets about 3-4 weeks before we planned on going.

The arena is an impressive long rectangular area. Section 9 is on the third level and we got to see everything, except when the horses with right beneath us. This was not a problem as most of time during the performance, the choreography was parallel, so we simply looked at the horses and riders across from us. If I were to go again, I would spring for more money and get seats in Category 3 or 4, simply because I love watching these horses so much.

I recommend arriving at the venue one hour before show time because as a newcomer, you’ll have a hard time finding the correct door to your seats. My parents and I wandered all over the place, being sent here and there, until we finally found where we needed to be. Better information could be given here.

As for the show itself, it was magical! I can’t even begin to describe how awe-inspiring the technical expertise demonstrated by the Lipizzaner stallions and their riders was! I held my breath watching the demonstration of the “Airs Above Ground,” especially during the capriole, where the stallion leaps into the air with his forelegs tucked under him, but the hind legs kick out at the peak. These are the most difficult moves that the stallions can perform and require a great deal of skill and precision.

Mozarthaus

I grew up playing the piano (don’t ask me to play anything now, I don’t remember a single note), so I spent many hours practicing various pieces from classical composers, such as Mozart. While he was not my favorite composer (I’m a Beethoven gal, myself), he was the favorite of many of my piano instructors, so I played Mozart frequently. I had absolutely no talent and no desire to play the piano, thus I spent many hours of my childhood butchering his work. I felt that I had to go see his house in Vienna where I could settle things between us, so to speak. He forgives me for ruining his beautiful pieces, and I forgive him for ruining my childhood.

The house was rather sparse in terms of furniture, but the audioguide was full of information about his life. I learned quite a bit about the man who would make my life so miserable so many centuries later. Despite his fame and his sponsors, he lived in relative poverty for much of his life because he spent and/or gambled his money faster than he could make it. I don’t think his wife was too happy with him because basically, he sounded like a terrible husband.

Eating Apfelstrudel mit Schlag

Vienna is known for their cafe culture and it behooves you not to miss it. A classic combination is the Vienna Melange, which consists of the trifecta: apple strudel with fresh whipped cream and coffee. It’s delectable and nothing better than sitting outside of a cafe enjoying an afternoon treat after a long day of sightseeing.

St Stephen’s Cathedral

Being Catholic, I kinda feel like I have an obligation to see every cathedral that I come across. If I don’t go in, I feel guilty. For example, I didn’t go inside a cathedral in Cusco and I still feel bad about it. St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna. I don’t remember much about it because at this point in my life, I’ve seen so many cathedrals that they all kinda blend in together. I’m sure the interior was magnificent. The important thing is that I can think back on Vienna and not feel guilty. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m Catholic, of course, I’ll feel guilty about something.

Cafe Landtmann

Cafe Landtmann is a beautiful traditional Viennese cafe serving delicious pastries and coffee, or so I’ve been told. I wouldn’t know because I never got to see it. Not for a lack of trying on my part. It was under renovation when I was there and you’d think this information would be readily available and easy to find. Not so. Instead, there were rumors it was closed, but other people saying it was open. ****sigh**** It was closed when I was there. Reviews on Tripadvisor make it clear that they’re open again. I don’t know why getting information is so hard in this day and age of the internet, but sometimes it’s impossible.

Vienna Naschmarkt

The Naschmarkt is a mile-long open-air market with restaurants. I love the name because naschen in German means nibble and Markt means market, so nibble market. Cute, right? What better name for a place devoted to food? I really wanted to go here, but it wasn’t something I could fit into our schedule because it was rather far out from where we were staying and nowhere close to the other attractions we were visiting.

 

Dachstein Ice Cave

 

Ben and I disagree vehemently about road trips; he hates them and I love them. Luckily for me, my mother loves them too, so I proposed that we drive 4 hours ONE WAY (yes, and we had to drive 4 hours back at the end of the day) to go see an ice cave, she was completely game for it. That’s right, we drove 8 hours to basically see an hour-long attraction. Ben shook his head when I told him this and he reproached, “I thought you cared about the environment.”

First of all, the drive from Vienna to Hallstatt was lovely. We took a more southernly route on the way there and got to enjoy the Austrian countryside and mountains. On the way back to Vienna, we took a more northernly route, which was gorgeous! We stopped at the cute little town of Hallstatt, which is right on Hallstaetter See (Hallstatt Lake). It’s a postcard-perfect, picturesque Alpine town on a lake and several tour busses agree based on the huge influx of tourists that we saw. The more northernly route hugged a good portion of the lake, which made for a beautiful drive. I love road trips on scenic byways.

As for the ice cave itself . . .

It’s a cave full of ice, even in summer. It’s amazing! Inside, it’s freezing and the ice has been there for eons. You need to bundle up in order to survive the tour. It’s a bit funny dragging your winter clothes in a middle of summer, especially a heat wave, but what can you do? The ice cave was spectacular because of the large formations inside the cave. The entire tour takes about an hour. To get to the cave, you ride a cable car to the top and then there’s a half mile walk straight up the mountain. The walk is arduous because of the steepness. We were a bit concerned about missing the tour, but we made it with time to spare. After the tour, the light rain that had been going on stopped, and the clouds broke, so we had a glorious view of the valley down below.

When our two-week vacation was over, I asked what the highlights of the trip were and all three of us put the ice cave at the top of the list. So yes, the 8-hour drive to and from was totally worth it.

Do you like road trips? Ever been to Vienna? 

10 thoughts on “Sightseeing in Vienna, Austria

  1. I’ve always thought Vienna seems fascinating. I want to go just to try that strudel! It would kind of annoy me if I traveled to an ice cave in the summer and had to give up extra room for a winter coat for that one thing!

    • Yeah, I purposefully didn’t bring a winter coat because I figured my mother would overpack. She did. I wore a couple of layers underneath, my lightweight fleece and my father’s light fall jacket. I was totally warm and cozy.

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